Helpers and Squashers
I have many, many people in my writing life who help me out. My friends Paul and Debbie, for example, met with me while I was writing Murder in the Boonies and answered lots of questions about reindeer. My friend Connie reads my stuff when it's still half-baked and gives constructive criticism. My sister loves everything I write and provides encouragement.
Yay for them!
On the other hand are the people who don't help and even get in the way at times. When I was writing one mystery series, I needed information about a park in another state. I wasn't able to go there and look at it, so I wrote to the park management and asked if they'd answer some questions. I stressed that they'd be specific, like "Is the park well-lit at night?" and I offered them a free copy of the book when it came out. At first I got an enthusiastic "We'd be pleased to help." However, when I sent five questions requiring only short answers, I got no reply. I waited two weeks and asked again. No answer. I gave up and used Google Live Maps to find out what I wanted to know.
Similarly, I wrote to the police department in the same area to ask one question. When a person asks to speak to a detective, how does she get to his office: alone? escorted? does he come to meet her? No answer. Not even a "That's confidential so we can't tell you unless we kill you afterward."
Now I'm at work on the fourth Sleuth Sisters, and I need an expert on water bottling plants. I called a person who was recommended to me, asking if he'd answer some specific questions. The man isn't an expert on water bottling, but he'd researched it a few years ago for his own reasons. I was hoping he could steer me in the right direction to find someone who is an expert. When I told him the scenario he said, "That isn't feasible at all." When I explained my research had turned up something exactly like it that had happened, he said, "Well, you can't do it." When I mentioned a second case, he clammed up. Apparently he didn't want to hear about real-world examples.
I got off the phone as quickly as possible, recognizing him as a type that's very hard to work with: "I'm always right, so you must be wrong." I'll go on to someone else, someone who's willing to talk it over and not insist I can't do what I need to.
I know, it's just a mystery novel. The world won't end if I get the facts a little bit wrong or if I have to stretch things to make the plot work (I mean, look at thriller writers! If logic were to be applied there, they'd all have to quit writing.). Still, it would be nice if people who know how things work would help writers out. Like the real estate agent I talked to for this book who spent fifteen minutes hashing out how my story could go. Then he offered to read the book before publication to make sure the real estate part is believable. Or the insurance agency where three different agents came out to help me decide how the arson in the book would go.
I like Helpers a lot more than I like Squashers.